Fans of action movies young and old are descending upon London for the inaugural  London Action Festival. Designed to celebrate all the components that go into making action movies the exciting spectacles they are, the organisers have put together screenings, panel discussions and workshops that are bound to excite any action aficionado (or actionado, if you will). 

While the festival kicked off on the Thursday evening with a Die Hard screening like no other — complete with a Q&A with legendary director and a musical performance from actor Robert Davi — it was on Friday night that the festival had its official opening night event: Action’s Big Night Out. Hosted at the Royal Geographical Society by comedian Bennett Arron, it was an evening with a clear affection for the talents that were there, and a few AV hiccups and pacing issues aside, it was a night among esteemed company.  

Starting with the first of three performances from The McBain String Quartet (yes, named after THAT McBain), the evening took an initially befuddling turn with a quick comedy bit and a performance from magician Nick Einhorn. While I may have begun with a steely gaze that only Clint Eastwood could match, my scepticism – as always in any magic show – was eventually worn down come the final trick (a nifty calculator gag that took a lot of the audience by surprise). 

With the crowd suitably warmed up, it was time to get to the main event and start having discussions with some filmmaking talents behind some of the finest moments in action cinema and TV. The first of these gems came in the form of the Anatomy of a Set Piece, in which directors John McTiernan – whose CV speaks for itself (Die Hard! Predator! The Hunt for Red October!) – and Corin Hardy (The Hallow, The Nun, TV’s Gangs of London) joined writer Ian Nathan on the stage to discuss two sequences from action movies past that they adore. 

Ian Nathan interviews John Mctiernan, Corin HArdy and Edgar Wright

The gravelly voiced and incredibly humble McTiernan brought along the bomb drop sequence from Stanely Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, a scene which has musical echoes in his own movie, Die Hard with a Vengeance. McTiernan spoke of his awe watching Kubrick, and shared a sweet how his mother would always take him to the movies through the 1950s and 60s, engrossing him in the kind of cinema that would inform his own filmmaking in the years to come. 

Mr. Hardy had a surprise on his sleeve as he presented the crowd with the Beehive fight scene from Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. While he had plenty of enthusiasm for the clip, he thought it best to invite a certain individual to join them on stage to discuss the ingredients of the scene; Mr Wright himself. Sharing the pre-visualisation process with the crowd, Mr Wright spoke fondly of stunt coordinator Brad Allan – who he worked with on both The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim – who sadly passed away last year at just 48 years old. A giant of his trade, Allen worked with Jackie Chan’s stunt team and choreographed stunts on a number of huge tentpoles and his loss is clearly felt in his industry. 

Following that discussion, acclaimed composer David Arnold took to the stage to share some thoughts on his experience in Hollywood, and his contribution to the Jame sBOnd franchise, having composed five movies from Tomorrow Never Dies up to Quantum of Solace. A charismatic, warm and funny personality, Arnold treated the crowd to an acoustic performance of two of his Bond themes; Surrender – which was performed by KD Lang over the end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies – and You Know My Name, which he wrote with the late great Chris Cornell for Casino Royale. That wasn’t the last we saw of Arnold for the evening, as he later returned to take on three members of the audience in a quiz of action music cues, which quickly descended into joyful chaos as the rest of the crowd got involved. 

David Arnold plays the guitar

But the real crowning gem of the evening belonged to the inaugural presentation of the Moving Target Awards. Two statues were given out on the evening,m with the first to renowned stunt coordinator for his decades-long contribution to stunts in cinema. From being the stunt double for Christopher Reeve in the Superman movies and Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones trilogy to directing whole units himself on major blockbusters, Vic’s impact on action cinema is undeniable. With video messages from collaborators including Mr Ford, Paul Verhoeven, Kathleen Kennedy and Kenneth Branagh, Mr Armstrong was clearly moved by the award, and thanked his wife – Wendy Leech, a very accomplished stunts person in her own right – and his family for continuing on his legacy and was met with a standing ovation. 

The second and final award was presented to Mr McTiernan for his outstanding contribution to directing action cinema. Messages were likewise sent in with praise to ‘McT’, from Jan De Boint (his cinematographer on Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October) and Alec Baldwin, with De Bont crediting McTiernan for reinventing, re-energizing and re-activating American action movies. Like Armstrong before him, McTiernan was clearly moved by the kind words and the standing ovation that followed, with his final words simply being ‘I would so like to go to work again’, a sentiment that many of the room undoubtedly concurred with as they rose to their feet with applause.

Vic Armstrong receives the Moving Target Award

There hasn’t been another director quite like Mctiernan in action cinema, particularly when it comes to crafting well-paced sequences with clear cause and effect. He was very humble in talking about his skill, often putting it down to preparation and instinct when asked. Watching Predator again (which I did as soon as I got home) demonstrates the kind of efficient and thrilling filmmaker he is and to echo his final thoughts, to have a new McTiernan movie out in the world would be something special.